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September 12, 2016 / Nicole Villeneuve

How to Eat Enough Protein: 5 Quick Protein Sources

PJ Cobb salad protein

The human body is a pretty amazing thing: It naturally produces many of the proteins we need to form the tissues that keep us thriving – so why do we need to worry about how to eat enough protein?

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Of the 20 we need to survive, there are 9 our bodies don’t manufacture themselves. Well-rounded protein consumption allows for the development of muscle, bone and blood tissues, as well as hair, skin and nails, and make important enzymes that permit basic functions like digestion, assimilation of nutrients and communication throughout the nervous system.

Eating enough protein usually means you’ll have consistent energy, stabilized blood sugar, reduced cravings for the sweet stuff and healthy tissue growth. To find out how much you need every day, use this formula as a guideline (individual needs will vary):

Weight in kg x {activity level} = ideal protein in grams

Choose a number between 0.8 and 1.8 to represent how active you are. Choose a lower number (i.e. 0.8) if you lead a more sedentary lifestyle and a higher number (closer to 1.8) if you are pregnant, recovering from an illness, or involved in consistent and intense weight- or endurance-training. (If you don’t use metric for your weight on a daily basis, simply convert pounds to kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2.)

Example: 130lb female who exercises regularly and strength-trains
130 lbs/2.2 = 59kg
70kg x 1.5 = 88.5g

If you’re very active, notice your weight is constantly fluctuating (particularly if you’re always hungry) or that your energy levels are inconsistent, try upping your protein intake to see how you feel. Here are a few easy ways to make it happen.

It's all about the beans

Beans and legumes provide a quick, inexpensive punch of protein. On average, they provide 10-20g of protein per cooked cup; pinto beans, at the extreme, have 41g in one cup! For easiest digestion, soak beans before cooking and cook well. (Smaller beans like adzuki, lentils and white beans tend to be a little easier to digest.) They make awesome additions to salads and soups, but can also be mashed into a hummus-like spread for sandwiches, or as a protein-baked dip for your favorite veggies.

Toss a scoop of “pseudo-grains” into a meal

Pseudo-grains like quinoa, amaranth and millet are actually seeds and are made up of about 20% protein! They offer a great deal of protein even when consumed on their own – around 10g per cup of cooked grain. Toss these into salads or use where you might otherwise have pasta or white rice to increase your protein. They also make relatively flavor-neutral additions to breakfast dishes like yogurt parfaits or acai bowls (instead of sugar-heavy granola), so feel free to get creative any time of day!

Put an egg on it

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to pump up the protein in a meal is to add an egg. One egg contains 6g of protein, which can make the difference between having enough or too little in a day. Eggs are extremely versatile: go big with an omelet, or just add a simple hard-boiled egg in a salad or a soft-poached egg over roasted veggies and see if it changes how satisfying your meal feels.

Shred some poultry or fish

Prepping poultry or fish for the week can make it easy to add in a little dash of protein whenever you need. Roast a chicken or salmon – or pick up a pre-roasted one – and shred it throughout the week into soup, salads, sandwiches or egg dishes (like that omelet above?). Simple plain roasted poultry can also be a great post-workout refuel.

Full-fat, full delicious dairy

Greek yogurt and full-fat dairy offer about 10g of protein per 100g serving. Whip these into delicious homemade sauces (like tzatziki) or use as the base for smoothies and cereal to easily increase your protein intake. If you have a sweet tooth, consider blending and freezing a batch of yogurt and berries for a high-protein, nutritious frozen dessert.

Nicole Villeneuve

Nicole Villeneuve is a certified Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. A graduate of Yale University, she previously worked in book publishing, with a focus on cookbooks and health, and ran the food blog Paper and Salt. Her writing has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Daily Beast. Nicole lives in San Francisco and loves cooking, reading, exploring new restaurants, and running by the ocean. You can (very occasionally) find her on Twitter.

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